Mental illness doesn’t fit in one box. People experience different levels of mental illness and all of those are real struggles. It's okay to keep your experience to yourself, but it's also okay to be open and transparent about it, no matter what you're going through.
I’ve tried writing this three times, and each time I doubt myself and say my struggles are not real struggles — that there are others out there that are going through a lot more than me.
We’re programmed to be this way, to not speak on our hardships because someone has it worse. And that’s not okay.
My hardships are valid. Your hardships are valid. It’s not a contest.
Throughout my elementary and middle school years, I was a terribly shy kid. I hardly talked in class, and when I had friends, I would let them step all over me and treat me poorly
Going into high school, I didn’t want to be like this. I have an outgoing personality when it comes to people I know, and I think I’m pretty funny, but when I’m around people I don’t know, I freeze.
My first semester at USC was one of the best couple of months of my college experience. I made friends, I was falling for boys, and I had my first taste of independence. I was also excelling in all of my classes.
But then COVID-19 hit, and I had to go home and spend the remainder of my freshman year as an essential worker at my high school job.
During my sophomore year, I was doing all online classes, and that was when I really started feeling like life was just too hard. I missed people, which for me, a person who values alone time more than anything, is astounding. I hated watching people have fun and not follow regulations while my only interaction was getting yelled at by customers who refused to put on masks.
I started failing my classes because doing a simple discussion seemed impossible.
Unless I was actively typing notes in those online classes, I would be on my phone because I physically couldn’t concentrate.
I had my first panic attack that year. It was triggered by something stupid, but it was the result of holding in all my feelings of missing my family and the looming threat of F’s in all my classes.
I was excited and nervous to go back in person my junior year. I woke up that first day with extreme nausea, my anxiety’s favorite way to physically manifest itself.
And while going back in person was fun, all of my work ethic that magically appeared freshman year was gone again, leading to panic attacks.
Starting senior year, I was in one of the worst mental states I’ve been in. I didn’t and still don’t want to graduate. I love learning and would stay in school for the rest of my life if I could. I’m also crippled by the fear that I’m not going to get a job.
But besides that, I was in my senior semester at the journalism school, where you are essentially working a 9-5 as a journalist. It was also my first semester as the opinion editor.
And I hated it all. I hated not knowing what was going on in senior semester, and I hated having to rely on other people in the newspaper. I just felt like I was disappointing people left and right, and I wanted to quit.
But I love opinion. Writing opinion is what I want to do when I graduate, and I love The Daily Gamecock. I couldn't leave my section that I felt responsible for and leave my writers, to whom I was their teacher. I just couldn't quit. I knew I would get through the semester and I would be proud of myself that I didn't quit.
I started having panic attacks frequently, where breathing was difficult and I was crying consistently. I decided I needed to talk to someone when it became a chore to get out of bed in the morning.
I made an appointment at the Student Health Center and went for my intake exam, where they immediately told me I would only be able to see a therapist maybe once a month and should seek other options, including group therapy or a stress management specialist. And while the stress manager did help me with my time management skills and truly became someone I could talk to about what was going on in my school life, money and family issues persisted.
I’m still working through how to deal with this, and while the medicine has worked in ways, my anxiety can get so bad that it infiltrates my dreams and I can’t sleep for a couple of nights, or I completely shut myself off and don’t talk to anyone for days.
It’s hard to explain mental health and mental illness. And while the stigma around it has dramatically decreased, there still needs to be a discussion about it. Mental illness is something probably everyone is going to face, and it’s okay to talk about.